On March 24, I was disappointed to lose the Democratic-Farmer-Labor endorsement for state House to Phyllis Kahn, who has represented the University of Minnesota area for the last 39 years. As I look back at the challenges of my campaign, I am eager to continue working toward achieving the goals that the DFL party has set forth this coming election year. I am proud that my grassroots campaign empowered students to attend DFL caucuses and participate in the DFL SD-60 convention. However, I believe that meaningful steps must be taken to make the process more inclusive to underrepresented groups.
On Feb. 7, our community proved something important: University students are not politically apathetic. We found they have strong opinions; they are excited to get involved, and they want their representative to fight for what they believe in. The energy and participation of students in the political process are essential to creating policies that represent the true makeup of this district. Our campaign trained over a dozen University students in grassroots community organizing. We registered more than 600 student voters before the special senate election in December. We held over a dozen listening sessions around the district to develop policy proposals that met the needs of our student and new immigrant communities. This all translated to more than 200 students caucusing, most for the first time.
Despite the high turnout at the caucuses, less than half of the student delegates were able to attend the convention March 24. Many students expressed frustration about conflicts that prevented them from participating in the convention, like schoolwork and part-time jobs. Also, if our campaign had not provided transportation to the convention, the number of student participants would have been even lower.
It is essential to the strength of our community that we solve these problems before the next convention. First, the convention should be held close to campus. A location near the University would not only be more convenient, but it would also facilitate participation by the new immigrant communities of Cedar-Riverside and Seward. Second, let’s reorganize the agenda to ensure that the candidate endorsement process has the most participation possible. By having a set start time for the first round of voting, we could guarantee that all delegates could cast a vote for the most contentious elections of the convention. The convention lasted more than seven hours — with voting for state representative at the end of the agenda — and many delegates were forced to leave early to fulfill other obligations.
What groups of people can, without any limitations, give up an entire Saturday? These factors disproportionately affect students, new immigrants and working people, three core constituencies who have long been underrepresented at every level of politics.
The Democratic Party is committed to providing a voice for underrepresented people. While Republicans seek to silence the voices of students and minorities, we seek to amplify them. I promise that I will continue working to increase political engagement of all residents of our district, but I need help in opening up the process by which we select candidates.
Our democracy becomes stronger when more voices are heard. We began our campaign more than a year ago, not just to win an election but also to fundamentally change politics as usual in the University community, and that process continues.
Barriers to student participation were broken. I’m proud of our role in that, but we’re not done yet. By enfranchising students, the major parties will not only gain electoral strength, but Minnesota will benefit from civically active students. Most importantly, more engaged and aware students will not suffer the fallout of insufficient representation: tuition increases and job losses. I hope in the coming weeks and months we can discuss which steps we can take in the future to make this process more accessible to students.
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